Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, and David Hogg notwithstanding, not every teen is ready to fight for justice and equality on a national — or international — scale. Director Amy Poehler’s charming Moxie, based on the YA novel by Jennifer Mathieu, will speak to the kids who want to make a difference but aren’t quite sure they’re meant for the spotlight.
Because, as central character Vivian (Hadley Robinson) discovers, we can all contribute to standing up against the system in our own way — and sometimes taking a few baby steps can lead to giant leaps. The film tells the story of Vivian’s awakening: She begins the movie as a caring but quiet high schooler who isn’t fond of her high school’s sexist traditions (rating the “most bangable” girl, etc.) but mostly just shrugs them off and moves on. Then, thanks to the arrival of outspoken new classmate Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Pena) and the discovery of her mom Lisa’s (Poehler) stash of ’90s-era protest paraphernalia, Vivian is inspired to create her own feminist zine: Moxie.
Vivian distributes Moxie anonymously in the girls’ bathrooms at school and is delighted to see it strike a chord with many of her classmates. More and more emboldened by Moxie‘s success — as well as her burgeoning friendship with Lucy and tentative romance with sweet Seth (Nico Hiraga) — Vivian is no longer willing to stand by while cocky jocks like Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger) and patronizing administrators like Principal Shelly (Marcia Gay Harden) ignore the school’s underrepresented groups.
Moxie is at its best when Vivian and her group of diverse friends are scheming to undermine the system at their school, amplifying each other’s voices for all to hear. The power of listening to and believing others — and the validation of feeling seen and heard — comes through loud and clear. Poehler mostly stays out of the spotlight, offering a warm, relatable supporting performance as Lisa but turning her directorial focus squarely on the teen characters and their arcs. The result is a meaningful but lighthearted look at the value of activism, feminism, and friendship.– Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Leslie Combemale Moxie is earnest to a fault, and it more authentically articulates riot grrl mom Lisa’s generation than that of her teen daughter and friends struggling with toxic masculinity, bullying, and sexualization happening at their high school. Those facts don’t make the movie any less entertaining. Relationships, between Vivian and her mom, and between the girls forging new friendships at school, are what drive the film and supply its heart. Whether the feminist message is a bit outdated to teen girls already fluent in an up-to-the-minute, truly intersectional feminism, it’s still a throwback to the places women have been to get where we are, and may yet inspire. Moms, see it with your girls. Girls, see it with your moms.
Marilyn Ferdinand Although the styles, the songs, and the slang change through the years, the tribulations of high school are universal. Cliques of popular kids, cool kids, and geeks negotiate harassment, first love, and parental expectations—and of course, the adults who run the school are clueless relics who just don’t understand. Moxie covers this familiar ground, but within the context of the MeToo and racial justice movements. Our protagonist, Vivian (Hadley Robinson), becomes more interested in the 90s grrl power activism of her mother (Amy Poehler) when a new girl (Alycia Pascual-Pena) in her English class questions the literary canon and stands up to the sexist, racist captain of the football team (Patrick Schwarzenegger). Watching Vivian find her power and empower allies all over campus offers a hopeful, upbeat message for young women and those who laid the groundwork for their liberation.
Sherin Nicole Moxie left me sitting firmly on the fence—the pointy part—which might’ve been exciting if it didn’t sting so much. The movie aspires to have the impact of a cross between Promising Young Woman and Booksmart but it never quite grasps the wit, symbolism, or righteous Riot Grrrl rage of either. And that lack is obvious before the stereotypes of the ‘Strong Blatinx Woman’ and the ‘Dutiful Asian Daughter’ make themselves known. Those stereotypes are even more irksome when those characters become ‘magical BIPOCs’, there to make the central white character’s journey more meaningful. No matter how accurately Moxie quotes various microaggressions from Twitter, or how great the actors are, those transgressions are blinking red lights. Other than that, there’s nothing technically wrong with the film but it is a little too obvious and a little too self-congratulatory. Which is a shame because it does have real moments of impact scattered throughout. While I appreciate Moxie’s goals, (much like the hearts & stars the young women draw on their hands to symbolize solidarity) I wish this movie had given me hearts and star-eyed feelings while watching it.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Based on Jennifer Mathieu’s award-winning feminist young adult novel, Moxie is a teen-friendly primer on how to discover your inner rebel girl, find your voice, and stand up to the man (both figuratively and literally). Director (and co-star) Amy Poehler knows her audience, so the “feminism 101” (as inspired by the Gen X mom) nature of the story is earnest and easy to follow. Hadley Robinson does a fine job of portraying introverted protagonist Vivian, who after hearing stories of her mom’s riotgrrrl days protesting injustices decides to print an old-school underground zine called Moxie after witnessing the school administration’s problematic and sexist enforcement of a dress code. While Vivian is clearly the main character, the best parts of the movie feature her diverse alliance of young feminists, particularly outspoken new girl Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña) and soccer stars Kiera (Sydney Park) and Amaya (Anjelika Washington), who are tired of the mediocre football outshining the championship girl’s teams. Despite a small misstep that works better on the page than on the screen (the handling of a sexual assault victim’s confession), this is a charming and thought-provoking Netflix pick, particularly for families with teens (of all genders).
Nell Minow: Moxie’s emphasis on finding ways for the girls to support each other despite their differences is especially nuanced. The film should spark some important conversations and some second thoughts about the line between “boys will be boys” and recognizing and stopping damaging behavior. It even might inspire some stars and hearts, some zines, and other ways for girls to tell their stories.
Jennifer Merin Amy Poehler’s very refreshing coming of age dramedy in which a diverse group teen girls bond, form a secret and subversive club to support each other in fighting back against male bullies — two totally objectionable but very popular football players, in particular — in their school and challenge the policies of the over zealous female principal who turns a blind eye to the pervasive problem. Read full review
Susan Wloszczyna: Well, in this day and age, never would I think that a teen-aimed movie would cause me to Google how many R’s are in riot grrrl. But leave it to Amy Poehler to introduce a rage-filled femme-forward music movement spin-off of punk from the ‘90s to the Covid-19 generation. In Moxie, whose script is based on a YA novel, she shows up both in front of the camera as a semi-cool mom of an introverted high-schooler and behind it as it director. But the focus is on Hadley Robinson as her daughter Vivian, who is trying to define herself while facing the task of writing a college essay. Read full review.
Loren King Amy Poehler is a comic genius so her move behind the camera is something to celebrate. But her second feature, Moxie, based on Jennifer Mathieu’s YA novel with a well-meaning but scattershot script from Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer, is likable but inconsequential, reducing #metoo and youthful activism to sitcom formula. It’s entertaining and certainly watchable but it seems diluted for mass consumption. The target audience of teenagers who, after all, are some of our most proactive and resourceful citizens, are likely well past its bland portrait of awakened anger and direct action. Read full review.
Liz Whittemore Moxie not only encapsulates the ongoing patriarchal structure but allows the next generation to learn about their own feminist awakening in the process. Through great music and genuinely fierce performances from a fresh young cast, this film is one that mothers of all ages can be proud to watch alongside not only their daughters but their sons. It manages to be teachable because it’s so authentic. Amy Poehler’s direction has an accessible quality that will resonate with so many viewers. With lessons of passion, acceptance, intersectionality, Moxie is an intelligent coming-of-age story. It’s not surprising that’s it’s already in Netflix’s Top 10 list. You just want to rock along with these girls. The energy is infectious.
Cate Marquis Amy Poehler directs Moxie, a coming-of-age high school dramedy with a feminist slant. Shy girl Vivian (Hadley Robinson) and Claudia (Lauren Tsai) have been best friends forever and are glad to get by unnoticed at their gossipy, sports-dominated high school, where principal Shelly (Marsha Gay Harden) lionizes the handsome, obnoxious captain of the football team (Patrick Schwarzenegger). But the arrival of an out-spoken new girl, Lucy (Alycia Pascal) challenges both their friendship and the school’s status quo. What starts out as a familiar high school tale becomes increasingly interesting and original after Vivian, inspired by her new friend’s boldness and own mother’s (Amy Poehler) radical feminist past, secretly launches Moxie, an zine that scathingly calls out sexist behavior at her school. Moxie is sure to please Poehler fans while also offering a positive, uplifting feminist message.
Directors: Amy Poehler
Release Date: March 3, 2021
Running Time: 111 minutes
Screenwriters: Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer, based on the novel by Jennifer Mathieu
Distribution Company: Netflix
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin